It was about two years ago to the day I was blacklisted at CNN.
I don’t want to remind them they were sadly wrong, but they were. So write this off however you prefer, but understand that we were lied to again to drag us again into an open-ended war in Iraq-Syria. Last time it was Bush and those missing Weapons of Mass Destruction. This time is was Obama and saving the Yazidi people from genocide.
Wait, what? Who are the Yazidis? How they get us back into Iraq?
Ah, how fast time flies.
Two years ago a group of Yazidis, a minority spread across Iran, Iraq and Turkey, were being threatened by a group called ISIS few American were focused on. Obama declared a genocide was about to happen, and the U.S. had to act. U.S. officials said they believed that some type of ground force would be necessary to secure the safety of the stranded members of the Yazidi group. The military drew up plans for limited airstrikes and the deployment of 150 ground troops.
No Congressional authorization was sought, no attempt was made to secure UN sanction, no effort was made to seek Iraqi military help to save their own people inside their own country. However, promises were made by the White House of having no American “boots on the ground” and that the airstrikes to kill people were for a humanitarian purpose.
Two years later the U.S. has some 6,000 troops on the ground, including artillery units and aircraft based inside Iraq and Syria. The limited airstrikes have expanded to a 24 month broad-based bombing campaign, which has spread into Syria, with the sideshows of complete collapse of democracy in Turkey, a Russian military presence in Syria, and an Iranian military presence in Iraq. For the record, the Yazidis are pretty much fine, as are ISIS and Syrian president Assad. The Yazadis do occasionally show up in fear-mongering, unsourced stories about ISIS sex slaves, usually spoon-fed to American media, and only American media, by pro-Yazidi ethnic groups safely in the west.
In fact, other than a massive regional death toll and no progress toward whatever the actual goal for the United States is (um, whatever, “destroy” ISIS), things are pretty much the same after two years, +chaos. And whomever is elected this November will be the fifth U.S. president to make war in Iraq.
Back to CNN.
As the Yazidi situation was unfolding, I was invited to tape a discussion there alongside the usual retired U.S. military colonel. I was asked a single question, explained in my answer that the U.S. was in fact using the Yazidi “humanitarian crisis/faux genocide” as an excuse to re-enter the Iraq quagmire, and equated it to George W. Bush’s flim-flam about weapons of mass destruction in 2003.
The host literally said I was wrong. I was not asked another question, though the colonel was given several minutes to explain the urgency of the situation, demand America act where no one else would, and assure the public that Obama planned only limited, surgical strikes and that was it, one and done.
My question was edited out, the colonel’s lengthy answer was played on air, and my very brief moment in the glow of CNN was ended even though I wore a nice suit and a tie. Oh well, we still have each other here, and hey, CNN, my number’s still the same if you wanna call.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Why, it is almost as if someone is creating them, and then calling the mass media’s attention to them on obscure sources, for anti-ISIS propaganda purposes. Hmm.
Well, don’t be shocked, but…
“To all the bros thinking about buying a slave, this one is $8,000,” began the Facebook posting attributed to an Islamic State fighter who calls himself Abu Assad Almani. The same man posted a second image a few hours later, this one a pale young woman’s face with weepy red eyes.
“Another sabiyah [slave], also about $8,000,” the posting reads. “Yay, or nay?”
The photos were taken down within hours by Facebook but of course still were coincidentally captured by the Middle East Media Research Institute, a Washington nonprofit group with unclear funding sources that monitors jihadists’ social media accounts. That Institute then pumped the story out across the web.
“We have seen a great deal of brutality, but the content that ISIS has been disseminating over the past two years has surpassed it all for sheer evil,” said a researcher for the Institute. “Sales of slave girls on social media is just one more example of this.”
Uh huh. It must all be true.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Luminis Books will publish my next novel, Hooper’s War, in May 2017.
Here’s the back cover kind of blurb for the new book:
There’s no prosthetic for a soul that’s dying faster than its body. You have to heal it. And to do that, you’re going to have to fight Hooper’s War.
In this anti-war novel set in WWII Japan, Lieutenant Nate Hooper isn’t sure he’ll survive. And if he does make it home, he isn’t sure he can survive the peace. He’s done a terrible thing, and struggles to resolve the mistake alongside an unrepentant Japanese soldier, and a Japanese woman trying to save both men.
War can be about a lot of things but it is always about what happens to people. The characters face a decision that will forever define them not by their war against each other, but by their war against themselves. A tale of moral complexity, of decisions that last longer than people do.
With allegorical connections to America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the reverse chronology telling of Hooper’s War turns a loss-of-innocence narrative into a tale of why that loss is inevitable.
Think Matterhorn and The Things They Carried, crossed with Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse Five. Some parts funny, some deadly serious.
That’s an early mockup of the cover, above. You can read some early excerpts from Hooper’s War here.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Ho, ho, ho, here’s a scenario no one could have possibly anticipated: some complex thing in the Middle East as a temporary patch to some previous complicated thing in the Middle East turned out to backfire for the U.S. because of a lack of any semblance of an actual policy as opposed to a series of random actions linked only in temporal order. Soon a new thing will be needed to counteract the lastest old thing, but that’s for next week.
The most current thing is that Russia deployed bomber and fighter aircraft to Iran for air strikes on rebels in Syria, the first time in 37 years that Iran allowed foreign forces to base and deploy from its territory. The new basing dramatically cuts into the number of frequent flyer miles the Russian air forces needs to bomb Syria. Flying out of Iran instead of from inside Russia means more sorties a day, maybe lower maintenance burdens, maybe heavier payloads.
Iran has, for now, walked back the arrangement, apparently embarrassed at the publicity. The larger issues still remain.
So a review, to put things in context. We’ll go quick here, kind of like the opening song of the Big Bang Theory, where they cover the history of the whole universe in 30 seconds of jaunty song:
— About 13 years ago Iraq was a stable place, just another crappy Mideast stinkhole run by the same dictator it had been for decades. U.S. invades to “free Iraq,” chaos ensues through two presidencies with a third teed up. The more or less stable Iraqi-Syrian border became a porous sore for Sunni baddies to enter and leave the fight, precursor foot soldiers to ISIS. The Sunni collaboration with (then) al Qaeda to protect themselves from Shiite militias spread into Syria.
— Five years ago Syria was a stable place, just another crappy Mideast stinkhole run by the same family of dictators it has been since the 1960s. The U.S. had tolerated, dealt with and cooperated with the Assad family during much of that time. Why, post-9/11, the U.S. even outsourced some torture to them. There were no Syrian aid agencies, no orphaned kids of Aleppo, no global refugee crisis.
— The Arab Spring starts in 2011, U.S. sees an opening, fans the flames in what started as a legitimate people’s revolt in Syria. Assad fights back, U.S. keeps intervening just enough to keep the fires burning but not much else, chaos ensues. Hillary and David Petraeus demand more U.S. war in Syria, end up instead getting a new U.S. invasion of Libya as a consolation prize from Obama and another failed state is created in another crappy Mideast stinkhole that had been run stably by the same dictator for decades. But we digress.
— Blah blah, time passes, people die, U.S. declares Assad an evil dictator who “must go,” thinks it negotiates the Russians into the new war to help “free Syria.” Russians grin wildly as they establish new full-force, on-the-ground military footprint inside Syria without a shot fired. They’re back into the game in the Middle East, half-invited by the U.S.!
— The oops! It turns out the sneaky Russians support Assad (who knew???), as America used to, and aren’t fighting him, like America wants them to. Bad, bad. John Kerry flies around Europe ignored by the White House (“sure, John, off you go, don’t forget to write and let us know how it’s going”) with his trademark Muppety “cautious but optimistic” face.
— But oops! Things change; the U.S. doesn’t like Assad, no sir, evil dictator kills his own people genocide barrel bombs poison gas save children, but isn’t going to attack him either like the Russians won’t attack him, because the war isn’t about “taking him out” per se except when asked to say that on TV news in America, it is about
defeatingdestroying ISIS. So, the U.S., Russia and hey, sure, why not, Iran, are all on the same side, fighting ISIS.
— BONUS: The U.S. and Iran are also “fighting ISIS” in Iraq. Iran, the big winner of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, is grinning wildly as it establishes a new full-force, on-the-ground military footprint inside Iraq without a shot fired. They’re back in the game, half-invited by the U.S. Iran had been training and equipping the people who had been fighting the U.S. in Iraq 2003-2011. Now they are helping U.S.-supported Iraqi Shiite militias who had been fighting the U.S. in Iraq 2003-2011 retake the same cities U.S. soldiers died taking 2003-2011.
And that brings us to this week, where Assad is still around, ISIS is still around, Iraq is still a sectarian mess, Iran more or less controls the Iraqi government and the powerful Shiite militias except for the ones who might just rebel and/or slaughter Sunnis to complete a slow-burn civil war, Turkey a newly-collapsing crappy Mideast-ish stinkhole run by a new dictator and Russia and Iran, always a bit wary of one another, are cooperating militarily to attack ISIS (U.S. thumbs up!) in support of Assad (U.S. thumbs down!)
And that’s all before we get to the Kurds, who are well on their way to creating a confederacy of Kurdistan carved out of parts of Iraq, Syria and Turkey. That will be the impetus behind the next war inside the Middle East, with most of the same players now in Syria joining in. Figure maybe a year from now or so.
Special thanks to Member of Parliament Birgitta Jonsdottir (above), Sunna Ævarsdóttir, Sara Oskarsson, and to Icelandic state television Ruv for the interview (below).
The audience was remarkably well-informed on whistleblower issues, with questions not only about high-profile folks like Ed Snowden and Chelsea Manning, but also important whistleblowers like Tom Drake, Bill Binney, John Kiriakou, and Jeff Sterling, who may not be as well known to many Americans.
There was also among the people present an overt fear of the direction the United States continues to head, beyond the symptoms of Hillary and Trump. The endless wars of the Middle East progulated and/or encouraged and supported by the U.S., the global pestilence of the NSA, and the lashing out of America against Muslims and human rights were all of deep concern.
As for Iceland’s Pirate Party itself, it is poised to gain control of the government this October. Recent polls suggest the Pirates lead with about 30 percent of the votes.
Some attribute this success to Icelanders’ growing dissatisfaction with the political establishment, exacerbated when former Prime Minister Sigmunður Gunnlaugsson was forced to resign over the Panama Papers-money laundering scandal earlier this year. Among the Pirate Party’s platform are plans for greater use of direct democracy and Icelandic citizenship/asylum for Snowden.
I just wrapped up a couple of days of jury duty.
Note “jury duty,” which is very different than serving on a jury. I didn’t do that. Being on an actual jury involves making a careful judgment on someone’s life. I did jury duty, which involves waiting and sitting and waiting, while watching your last hopeful images of democracy fade away.
You Are Summoned
Jury duty starts with a summons. The government officially demands you show up at a courthouse on a specific day and time. Not asks, not invites, demands. You, with the big mouth all about rights and the Constitution and racism in the justice system, time to get real. So I showed up on the specific day and time, actually about 15 minutes early to allow for security.
Security. Even more so than at the airport, people showed up with an impressive array of personal electronics, like the shipping computer at Amazon had a glitch that flung new products at them even as we stood in line. And we did stand in line. For 45 minutes, mostly outside on the sidewalk. And learned in the end there were two courthouses and many of us (me) were in line for the wrong one.
To the end of a new line for you, Sparky. Freedom isn’t free.
The Waiting Game
I got to the jury room over an hour late only to learn that because so many people make the line mistake and because security is slow, the 8:45 stated arrival time with threats of fines if you are late is kind of an artifact from 1856. It was about 10:30 before a guy who said he’d been doing this exact same job for 34 years began speaking to us as if we were slow children or fairly smart puppies. The bulk of his explanation was about how most of us would get our $40 a day jury payment, and the many exceptions to that. It was then lunch.
Several of us went out together. The only consistent topic of conversation was how each planned to avoid serving on a jury.
After a nice lunch, we gathered to learn that about half of us would be siphoned off for jury selection. The other half would spend the next four hours in that room, enjoying listening to two lethargic window box air conditioners try and cool a room big enough for half court basketball. The other thing was a death struggle over the handful of electrical outlets, and to try and get on to the limited WiFi. Part of the problem was that there seemed to be no filters or restrictions, so the guy near me streaming Frozen sucked about more bandwidth than the entire row behind him trying to get to Gmail. Yeah, First World problems, but we were indeed in what was rumored to be a First World city.
The hours ended. We were unneeded. We were dismissed until re-summoned tomorrow morning.
Tomorrow is Another Day
The next morning we all knew what line to be in and how security worked, so there was a hive mind decision to not come on time. Instead, the gang from the day before drifted in over the course of the morning. I got there early enough to open four simultaneous WiFi connections and begin downloading multiple torrents of movies I could care less about. I had a moment of pleasure hearing some guy say “Please God, I just need to log on to the trading site, London is closing.”
And then for my sin I was given a mission. I got called to jury selection, along with about 20 other waiters.
We were brought to an unventilated hallway to wait for 30 minutes before entering an actual courtroom. Behind the judge were gold metal letters about 10 inches high that read IN GOD WE TRUST, and many flags. We did an olde timey swearing in, and then were invited to visit the judge and explain any “issues” we might have that would prevent us from serving on a jury.
It was pathetic.
Nearly everyone bitched, whined, begged and complained that they could not do it. Who knew everyone in the courtroom had both a special needs child and a sick mother and had to work nights and took medications and felt they could not faithfully follow the law due to some special need, or conviction, or conscience, or whatever, please your honor, whatever will work. The judge turned down some, accepted some. If anyone needed some stock footage to hit on the search term “cynical,” this would do.
I got bounced out of the jury selection in the next phase. Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney asked us questions about our jobs, our thoughts on law enforcement (especially if we trusted police to testify honestly) and the like. I answered every question completely candidly and was thrown back to wait three more hours until “jury duty” was over. The only way I could have served would have been to lie. And I could have, and in what way does that make sense?
This is a Mess
So look, this system is a mess. I’m not sure how to fix it all, but here are some ideas.
The 19th century notion that everyone simply must find a way to put their life on hold does not work. I’m really sorry and I get the civic duty part Jefferson and Madison intended, but telling single parents to just figure out child care, Wall Street brokers to just not care about millions of dollars, students to just miss class, and people who work freelance or hourly to just suck it up and lose their already limited income is not 2016.
If assigned to an actual jury, you stay with the trial until it is done. Might be a few days, might be a few weeks, or if you pull a murder case or one of the many medical malpractice suits, it could be a month+. You don’t know. You just have to figure out how to be there. For $40 a day.
That money thing is not a small deal. $40 a day, minus the minimum five dollars commuting to court and back costs, means you are getting about half the minimum wage in New York, and even that takes six to eight weeks to be sent to you by a check I am somewhat skeptical will ever arrive. If you are already living on the margins, you cannot afford to serve on a jury.
It seemed that the better dressed and more educated a potential juror sounded, the better excuse s/he had for the judge on why s/he could not serve. Why, it was almost as if they prepped for this. Meanwhile, a lot of folks whose English was poor or who sounded as if they did not get much of an education had no excuse the judge would accept. There were magic words and some knew them and some did not.
I Don’t Feel So Good
And there was where democracy died. I had a hard time identifying anyone present who wanted to sit on a jury. It seemed almost everyone wanted out, though only some figured out how to do it successfully. I don’t feel good saying it, but my limited window into all of this suggests juries might just be made up of people who can’t get out of it. Hard to say how bitter that makes them feel listening to an actual case.
I believe in this stuff. But it was very hard for me to give up a week or a month’s worth of income. I work 100% freelance and if I am not around to write I do not get paid. Half minimum wage is not helping me meet expenses. I hate that but it is true. I went home angry at myself. I don’t feel better now.
There is a nasty pattern in American political speech, going back into the 1980s at least: when a senior U.S. official labels you a thug, often times wars follow. Thug is the safest word of American Exceptionalism.
So it is with some concern that lots of folks are pushing each other away from the mic to call Putin a thug (fun fact: Putin has been in effective charge of Russia for 15 years. As recently as the Hillary Clinton Secretary of State era, the U.S. sought a “reset” of relations with him.)
While the current throwing of the term thug at Putin is tied to the weak evidence presented publicly linking a Russian hacker under Putin’s employ to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee computers, there may be larger issues in the background. But first, a sample of the rhetoric.
Putin the Thug
Obama on Putin: “a thug who doesn’t understand his own best interests.”
Mario Rubio on Putin: “A gangster and a thug.”
Paul Ryan’s spokesperson on Putin: “Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug.”
John McCain on Putin: “A bully and thug.”
And for fun, Sir Peter Westmacott, Britain’s ambassador to the U.S. in 2014, on Putin: “A thug and a liar.”
Thugs in American Military Adventurism
That word, thug, seems to be a sort of dog whistle that when blown signals Americans and their media to psyche up for a new fight. For example:
John Kerry on Bashar Assad: “A thug and murderer.”
John Kerry on Islamic State: “Daesh [ISIS] is in fact nothing more than a mixture of killers, of kidnappers, of criminals, of thugs, of adventurers, of smugglers and thieves.”
George W. Bush on al Qaeda: “If we let down our guard against this group of thugs, they will hurt us again.”
George W. Bush on Saddam Hussein: “He is a thug.”
Bernie Sanders on Gaddafi: “Look, everybody understands Gaddafi is a thug and murderer.”
But Why Putin, Now?
Perhaps what we’re seeing here is a realignment for the next iteration of America’s perpetual war. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the conclusion of the Cold War (“the end of history”, as one author called it), there was no global enemy. No big nasty to spur weapons procurement, or to justify a huge standing military with hundreds of bases around the world, or to pick fights with to allow a boring president to morph into a superhero war president.
A lot of people had a lot of power and money in play that demanded some bad guys. An attempt was made in the 1980s to make narco lords the new major bad guys, but they were too few in number and the popularity of drugs among Americans got in the way. Following 9/11, the bad guys were supposed to be “the terrorists.” The George W. Bush administration riffed off that theme, appointing Saddam a massive weapons of destruction threat and tagged on Iran and North Korea as part of an Axis of Evil, because, well, no one knows, things sound good in groups of threes.
Saddam turned out to be a bust, and the Iraq War ultimately very unpopular. Bin Laden never launched a second attack on the U.S., and the Taliban were hard to picture, coming and going as they do. The U.S. made a good faith effort trying to label all sorts of others, Gaddafi, Assad, ISIS, et al, as global enemies worthy of perpetual war but they either were defeated, or are just plain are kicking American butt. Meanwhile, the Middle East in general turned into a huge, complicated, sticky clusterf*ck quagmire.
A New Hope Emerges
Like Batman, Washington needs an Arch Enemy, preferably one poster-child kind of guy who can be shown on TV looking like a Bond villain. With actual nukes (Washington spent years trying to convince us the terrorists were a 24/7 nuclear threat [smoking gun = mushroom cloud] and the damn terrorists never complied.)
Enter Putin The Thug.
Americans are already well-prepared by the old Cold War to see Russia as an evil empire, and Putin does look the part. A new Cold War with Russia will require lots of expensive military hardware, plus a large standing army and new areas of Europe to garrison. It might breathe new life into a NATO wondering why it still exists.
For politicians, shouting about Muslim threats has proven to have a downside, as it has enflamed many Muslims and pushed them toward radicalization. It turns out also there are Muslim voters, and people who like Muslims, in the U.S. Putin doesn’t vote, only a handful of hippies think he’s a good guy, and he can be slapped around in sound bites relatively without risk.
It is a political-military-industrial complex wet dream.
And so I predict in the coming Hillary regime a tamping down of terrorism stuff and a ramping up of a new Cold War. After all, isn’t that what her mentor Henry Kissinger would do?
You know how it is. You just get back from a trip to the store and your significant other says “Honey, I just realized we are all out of AK-47s. And while you’re at the market, could you also grab a couple of mortars and some grenades in case your mother stops by again unexpectedly?”
Yes, it could be Texas, but it actually is what’s going on in Baghdad.
Iraq news site Niqash tells us about a market in Baghdad’s Sadr City, where masked men display their wares on open tables the same way vegetable sellers do in other city markets. Next to grenades on the tables are rockets, mortars and plenty of other weaponry, with markings that indicate they come from a number of different sources. Welcome one and all to Maridi market, one of Baghdad’s, if not, Iraq’s, most famous “illegal” arms markets.
(The photo above shows beautiful Sadr City back in the good old days, when America liberated it.)
There are a lot of ways he obtains weapons, said one trader in the market. The most significant route is across unguarded border crossings from NATO ally Turkey. The guns and other weapons enter Kurdistan (another American ally) and are then brought to Baghdad; checkpoints (manned by Iraqi security forces the U.S. pays for) don’t seem to be a problem and if they are, counterfeit ID cards or a bribe will often work.
“Most of the weapons come from the military, especially those located near the front,” a vendor told Niqash. “Soldiers who lose their weapons during fighting are not questioned as to why. If a soldier dies fighting, lost weapons are registered in their name. So a lot of the lost weapons are registered in dead soldiers’ names. And those weapons go to the arms dealers.”
Thanks to many Iraqis wanting to leave the country, soldiers and members of the state security forces also sell their weapons as part of efforts to raise funds. Some soldiers simply want to supplement their income.
This all could have something to do with why the U.S. can’t seem to win the war in Iraq, but I just can’t put my finger on it right now.
What to do about all those darn videos showing cops murdering people?
They make it much harder for law enforcement to lie about their own actions, and just get everyone all fired up. Why not ask Apple (for starters) to build in a “feature” on a future generation of iPhones that will allow cameras to be disabled remotely?
A patent granted to Apple this month details technology that remotely disables iPhone cameras using infrared sensors. Someone you do not know and cannot see will be able, without your permission, to disable the camera on a phone you own and are legally using, perhaps to take video of your son’s Little League game, perhaps to take video of a police officer choking to death an innocent man.
Apple’s patent application used the example of a rock band wanting to prevent audience members from recording a concert. Nasty bootleggers and their darn YouTubing!
While the First Amendment, backed up by much case law, guarantees the right of citizens to record the actions of government employees, including the police, conducting their duties in public places, the Amendment does not guarantee corporate America has to sell you the technology to do so. It is Constitutionally unclear if a police force using such technology to block video would violate the First Amendment (hey, you could switch over to your Dad’s camcorder that’s in the basement), but knowing the way things work, the cops would try it first, worry about court cases later.
And indeed you can hear the arguments terrorism, national security event, blahblahblah. Perhaps the police could designate First Amendment Video Zones outside any large event where citizens could shoot video of each other to their heart’s content?
Another interesting legal question would be the effect of citizens using some other technology to disable the technology used by police to disable camera phones. Would that become illegal, the way some states have made the use of radar detectors in your car illegal?
So as the cops like to say, “Hey, nothing to see here folks, move along.”
So, Afghanistan. America’s longest and wackiest war will soon enter its 16th year, and is scheduled to run through the next administration, as no one can remember why the U.S. is fighting there anymore and so no one knows when this thing is over. Did we win yet? How would we know?
None of that matters of course, because plenty of American contractors are in their 16th year of getting filthy rich, thanks to extraordinary amounts of money being spent with no effective oversight by the Department of Defense. Let’s have the latest example.
Our friends at the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) are the poor b*stards charging with keeping track of all this waste. Once upon a time the point of an Inspector General was to point things out to upper management, like generals or Congress, so problems could be addressed. In 2016, the point of the Inspector General is to be ignored because no one in Washington actually care to fix anything.
Nonetheless, SIGAR has its job, and so has published an audit of America’s Afghan National Army Technical Equipment Maintenance Program, designed to maintain Afghan army vehicles at our expense and develop a vehicle maintenance capacity within the army.
It has not gone well. The audit notes:
— The five-year contract, originally valued at a fixed price of nearly $182 million, increased to $423 million due to contract modifications. The thing is still amusingly referred to as a “fixed price contract,” because words mean something else in the land of fairies and procurement.
— The failure of the contractor, Afghanistan Integrated Support Services, to meet its most basic contract requirements and program objectives, and Department of Defense inaction to correct contractor deficiencies and seek repayment of funds, has resulted in not only the waste of U.S. taxpayer funds but in the need for a new maintenance contract that is projected to cost more than $1 billion over the next five years.
— The contract was originally structured based on the assumption that the Afghan army had the capability to provide spare parts when and where they were needed, and that the Afghan army was capable of performing higher-level maintenance tasks, even though it had ample evidence that such capabilities did not exist.
— The U.S. placed orders for spare parts for Afghan army vehicles without accurate information as to what parts were needed or already in stock.
— The contract performance metric did not accurately assess contractor performance or progress toward contract objectives.
— The contractor was cited 113 times for failing to fulfill contract requirements.
— SIGAR found a number of instances where DOD could have demanded, but did not demand, repayment for services not rendered or inadequate services rendered.
— The contractor was compensated for repairs it made based on the number of vehicles in the Afghan vehicle fleet and not on the actual number of vehicles repaired. Payments to the contractor based on Afghan army vehicle inventory and not vehicles actually repaired resulted in escalating per-vehicle repair costs from a low of $1,889 to a high per-vehicle repair cost of $51,395.
— The Afghan army continues to suffer gaps in vehicle readiness, accountability, maintenance management, and supply chain management, and that these gaps affected their ability to execute military operations.
Some of this could possibly explain why the U.S. keeps losing the war.
It’s interesting that accusations that Putin is trying to swing the election to Trump peaked, for now, in the midst of the Democratic Convention, and distracted nicely from what was revealed in the hacked emails. Hmmm.
Putin was then ushered off stage, to be replaced by the Wrath of Khan and their son, who died in Iraq 12 years ago. I wonder now when Putin will be brought back. He will of course be brought back, being far too good a bad guy to waste in this most obscene of elections.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was no global enemy for America to face down. No big nasty to spur weapons procurement, or to justify a huge standing military with hundreds of bases around the world, or to pick fights with to allow a president down in the polls to morph into a war leader.
A lot of people had a lot of power and money in play that demanded some real bad guys. An attempt was made in the 1980s to make narco-lords the new major threat, but they were too few in number to sustain the meme, and too many American loved their dope. Following 9/11, the bad guys were “the terrorists.” The Bush gangsters anointed Saddam a WMD threat and christened Iran and North Korea as part of an Axis of Evil.
The Iraq War was ultimately very unpopular, and is never-ending. Meh. Bin Laden never launched a second attack on the U.S., and the Taliban had no poster child leader like him to snarl at for 15 years. Iran and North Korea just make a lot of noise. The United States made an effort to label others — Gaddafi, Assad, Islamic State — global enemies worthy of perpetual war, but the Middle East in general has turned into a quagmire we all want to really wake up sober from.
Washington really needs an Arch Enemy, a guy who looks like a Bond villain with nuclear weapons he’ll brandish but never use.
Americans are already well-prepared by the old Cold War to see Russia as an evil empire, and Putin does look the part. A new Cold War will require America to buy more military hardware, plus discover new places like the Baltic states to garrison. It might even straighten out a NATO confused about its role regarding global terrorism.
Forget Trump and Clinton; Putin is the political-military-industrial complex dream candidate.
How ya’ doing? I mean money-wise. Too much? Maybe not enough?
So let’s listen to economist Paul Krugman explain why we are so screwed. Not we will be screwed, or maybe things will go that way, or we will in the future. Nope, it already happened, though most of us haven’t yet figured it out.
Krugman, and the economist he discusses, Thomas Piketty, paid attention in math class, and the other classes, too. That’s why they understand this stuff and I’m still trying to suss out why no matter how many hours I stay on the job and how much I save, it is never enough.
In case you’re reading this on your 15 minute break at Target, I’ll try to summarize.
The American Dream (Patrimonial Capitalism)
The myth of the American Dream is the dominating factor in keeping people mostly complacent in the United States. You know it — work hard, and your life will improve. Well, maybe not your life, but your kids’, or at least your grandkids’. If that doesn’t work, it is the fault of the Irish immigrants, or the darn Chinese, or those welfare freeloaders. Ask Donald Trump how it all works.
The thing that makes the myth so powerful is that the tiny percent that is true sounds better than the 99 percent which is a lie. As long as near-constant growth could be assured, enough pieces would fall to the the lower and middle classes to make the Dream seem real. It helped that a kindly media would promote the heck out of every exception, whether it was the shoeshine boy in the late 19th century who went to college, or the plucky guys who invented some new tech in their garage and became billionaires. See, you can do it too, just like if we run hard enough, everyone can be in the Olympics. It’s just a matter of wanting it, believing in yourself, having passion and grit, right?
The Undeniable Reality of the Now
The bulk of the industrial jobs are gone and never coming back; ask Detroit, or the people in Youngstown and Weirton. People have been talked out of most union jobs, convinced somehow that organizing was not in their own interest, and now they find themselves accepting whatever minimum of a wage they can get. Food stamps and other need-based programs are finding more and more middle class users, as suburban people who once donated to charities are now lining up out front of them. Health care paid for by our own taxes is seen as a give away to lazy people. This is the stuff Bernie Sanders talked about.
Like with gravity, the universe doesn’t care if you “believe” it or not; it is just true, independent of what you “think.” That you have been taught this all is something you can choose to believe or not is the weight that holds us all down.
Drilling Down Into Our Miserable Lives
In case you have a few more minutes on your break, or if you’ve been laid off since starting this article, here are some more things happening out there whether you believe in them or not. You can read more about all of this in Thomas Piketty’s book, Capital in the Twentieth Century.
— Our income inequality rate is higher than it ever has been in our own history, is growing, and is higher than in countries in Western Europe and Canada.
— The inequality is driven by two complementary forces. By owning more and more of everything (capital) rich people have a mechanism to keep getting richer, because the rate of return on investment is a higher percentage than the rate of economic growth. This is expressed in Piketty’s now-famous equation R > G. The author claims wealth is growing at six-to-seven percent a year, more than three times faster than the size of the economy.
— Wages are largely stagnant, or sinking, driven by factors in control of the wealthy, such as automation that eliminates human jobs and the not-adjusted-for-inflation minimum wage more and more Americans now depend on for their survival.
— All of this is exacerbated by America’s lower tax rate on capital gains (how the rich make their money) versus wages (how the 99 percent make their money.)
— Because rich people pass on their wealth to their relatives, the children of rich people are born rich and unless they get really into fast women and cocaine, will inevitably get richer. They can’t help it. The gap between the one percent and the 99 percent must grow.
— Social reforms, such as increased education opportunities and low-cost health care, are incapable without tax changes significantly affecting income equality. The only people who can change society are those who profit from it not changing. That’s the big reveal on why we are in so much trouble.
FUN FACT: Until slavery was ended in the United States, human beings were also considered capital, just like owning stocks and bonds today.
Last Thursday night, speaking at the Democratic National Convention, Khizr Khan paid tribute to his son, U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, who died in Iraq on June 8, 2004, after he tried to stop a suicide bomber.
As for every parent, husband, wife, brother, sister and friend who lost someone any war, I grieve with them. I am sorry for the Khan’s loss. I am a parent and can all too easily be sent to thinking about the loss of a child.
So go ahead and hate on me. But of the almost 7,000 American families who lost sons and daughters in the last 15 years of American war of terror, why did the Democrats choose a single Muslim family to highlight?
No one knows how many hundreds of thousands (millions?) of non-American Muslims were killed as collateral damage along the way in those wars. Who spoke for them at the Convention?
I found the Democrats’ message shallow. It was pandering of the most contemptible kind, but not as some say simple pandering for Muslim votes from those alienated by Trump’s rhetoric.
The Democratic pandering was to an America that wants to believe we have good Muslims (who express their goodness by sending their kids to fight our wars) and “they” have the bad Muslims (who express their badness by sending their kids to fight their wars.) The pandering was to the cozy narrative that makes the majority of Americans comfortable with perpetual war in the Middle East and Africa.
MORE: At one point Khan challenged Trump, “You have sacrificed nothing and no one.” True. But let us also remember the Clinton family sent no one to war. Their daughter did not serve any more than any Trump kid. Bill and Hillary served exactly as many days as Trump and Melania. Khan should have been more inclusive in his condemnation.
I would also like to ask Khan how he reconciles his son’s death with the fact that only a few years later Iraq is still deep in war.
Trump is an ass and I do not support him in any way. I am particularly troubled by his hate speech directed at Muslims, and Mexicans, and everyone else he hates.
It is not disrespectful to discuss these things. Khan choose to put himself and his son’s death on television to serve a partisan political purpose. We need to talk about what he talked about.
I always found myself giggling during the Democratic debates when Hillary would ask Bernie how he was going to pay for things like healthcare or college tuition, and then Bernie stammering to find an answer.
They both knew the secret but neither would say it — there’s plenty of money, we just don’t want to spend it on Americans.
We think of that as freeloading, unearned stuff. Go get a job, moocher. But then move the same question overseas and everything changes. There is always plenty of money, and the people getting free stuff from that money aren’t moochers. They’re allies.
So how much healthcare would $1.7 billion buy? Because that’s how much money the United States just laid out to buy radios for the near-useless Afghan Army. And while I don’t know how much healthcare the money would buy, I do know it will purchase a helluva lot of radios. Is everyone in Afghanistan getting one? Maybe we’re buying them for the Taliban, too.
Anyway, the $1,700,000,000 radios for Afghanistan contract was just recently awarded to the Harris Corporation. And here’s a funny thing: only one company — Harris — actually put in a bid for the contract.
But the Afghans must need more stuff than just radios, and so the U.S. has money ready for that.
The United States will provide $3 billion to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces from 2018 to 2020 for, well, we don’t really know. Meanwhile, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan said the White House planned to ask Congress for about $1 billion a year in development and economic assistance for Afghanistan through 2020. And if that isn’t enough, the United States and its allies are expected to raise $15 billion for the Afghan National Defense and Security forces at a NATO summit scheduled for next month in Warsaw.
There’s money. You just can’t have any of it, moochers.
The bones of our democracy — the core elements that separate that way of life from others — lie in the First Amendment to the Constitution, specifically the rights to free speech and a free press.
Without the ability to speak freely, and to have things about our government reported equally freely to us, most of the rest of the concept of what was laid out on July 4, 1776 and later falls away. Thomas Jefferson himself stated that an “informed citizenry” was the key to everything.
So it is with more than a little anxiety that we learned secret rules allow the FBI to spy on journalists with such ease that the restraints are really nothing more than a bit of paperwork. As always, the ostensible justifications for another deep step into Post Constitutional America are terrorism, security, protecting the homeland. And, as always, the outcome seems to be much more about stomping out whistleblowers than anything else.
As revealed by an anonymous whistleblower to The Intercept (the government refused to release the information), secret rules allow FBI agents to obtain journalists’ phone records with approval from only two internal officials. No warrant needed. No outside oversight. No courts, no judges, no hearings, no public records.
The rules govern the FBI’s use of national security letters (NSL), which allow the bureau to obtain information about journalists’ calls without going to a judge or informing the news organization being targeted. National security letters are themselves an anti-Constitutional outgrowth of the Patriot Act and its successors. The letters allow the FBI and other law enforcement agencies conducting a national security investigation to demand access to information without a warrant, and, in most cases, prohibit the organization required to supply the information (for example, a library asked what books you read) from even acknowledging the request was made.
The FBI issued nearly 13,000 NSLs in 2015 alone. No one outside of government knows why they were issued, who was affected, and what information was gathered.
The FBI’s secret rules in the specific cases of whistleblowers and leaks only require an additional couple of internal signatures. In addition, the rules specify any extra oversight layers do not apply at all if the journalist is believed to be a spy or is part of a news organization “associated with a foreign intelligence service” or “otherwise acting on behalf of a foreign power.” That will easily rope in any national media service, and most likely is broad enough to pull in quasi-national media outlets like the BBC or Japan’s NHK. And once again, it is the FBI itself defining who is and who isn’t whatever it wants them to be.
In an era when our government conducts more and more of the “people’s business” in secret, the need for brave men and women to step and an provide information, and the need for brave journalists to report that information, is ever more urgent. Without men like Edward Snowden working with journalists, we would never have known the depths of the NSA’s spying, for example. And without the heroic efforts of the person who leaked these once secret FBI rules, we would never have known what new tools the government had granted itself to weaken the press freedoms that otherwise helped sustain this nation for centuries.
Short answer: nobody knows, but the media is treating it as a fact based primarily on a single technical source employed by the Democratic National Committee. I read the source’s publically available explanation. Here’s what I found.
A Quick Taste of Media Conclusions
Despite a line in paragraph five saying “Proving the source of a cyberattack is notoriously difficult,” the New York Times offers the following statements.
— “researchers have concluded that the national committee was breached by two Russian intelligence agencies;”
— “Though a hacker claimed responsibility for giving the emails to WikiLeaks, the same agencies are the prime suspects;”
— “Whether the thefts were ordered by Mr. Putin, or just carried out by apparatchiks who thought they might please him, is anyone’s guess.”
— “It is unclear how WikiLeaks obtained the email trove. But the presumption is that the intelligence agencies turned it over, either directly or through an intermediary. Moreover, the timing of the release, between the end of the Republican convention and the beginning of the Democratic one, seems too well planned to be coincidental.”
There’s more, but you get the picture. The article also quotes Clinton staffers citing unnamed experts and researchers.
Who Are These Experts?
The only experts cited work for a company hired by the Democratic National Committee to investigate the hack. There is no indication of any neutral third party investigation. The company, Crowdstrike, issued a publicly available report on what they found.
The report title makes clear the company’s conclusion: Bears in the Midst: Intrusion into the Democratic National Committee.
What Does the Report Say?
The report has some technical explanations, but focuses on conclusions that seem to be at best presumptions, despite the media treating them as fact.
— The key presumptive conclusion seems to be that the sophistication of the hacks points to a nation-state actor. “Their tradecraft is superb, operational security second to none and the extensive usage of ‘living-off-the-land’ techniques enables them to easily bypass many security solutions they encounter. In particular, we identified advanced methods consistent with nation-state level capabilities.”
— The hackers, two separate entities Crowdstrike says worked independently, used techniques known to be used by Russians. Better yet, with no evidence at all presented, Crowdstrike concludes, “Both adversaries engage in extensive political and economic espionage for the benefit of the government of the Russian Federation and are believed to be closely linked to the Russian government’s powerful and highly capable intelligence services.” Also, for one of the alleged hackers, “Extensive targeting of defense ministries and other military victims has been observed, the profile of which closely mirrors the strategic interests of the Russian government.”
— By the end of the report Crowdstrike is just plain out called the hackers “Russian espionage groups.”
FYI: Fidelis, another cybersecurity company, was hired by Crowdstrike to review the findings. Fidelis worked exclusively and only with data provided by Crowdstrike (as did several other companies.) Fidelis They concluded the same two hackers, COZY BEAR and FANCY BEAR APT, committed the intrusion, but made no comments on whether those two were linked to the Russian government.
Um, Valid Conclusions?
Despite the citing with certainty of experts and researchers by the media and the Clinton campaign, the only such expert who has made any findings public has basically thrown out little more than a bunch of presumptions and unsubstantiated conclusions.
Left undiscussed are:
— the commonality of hackers using “false flags,” say where an Israeli hackers will purposely leave behind false clues to make it seem that a Hungarian did the work. As one commentator put it sarcastically “The malware was written in Russian? It was a Russian who attacked you.
Chinese characters in the code? You’ve been hacked by the Peoples Liberation Army.”
— the question of if the hackers were “Russians,” can anyone tie them to the Russian government? Joe Black Hat breaking into some system in Ireland may indeed be an American person, but it is quite a jump to claim he thus works for the American government.
— there is also a significant question of motive. For Putin to be the bad guy here, we have to believe that Putin wants Trump in power, bad enough to risk near-war with the U.S. if caught in the hack, and bad enough to really p.o. Clinton who will be nominated this week anyway, and hoping of course that evidence of dirty tricks by the DNC released in July will be enough to defeat her in November. That’s a real s-t-r-e-t-c-h, Sparky.
— other than those private persons who hack for their own entertainment or personal political beliefs, most work for money. They steal something and sell it. Information from the DNC system would find an easy buyer.
— Who might be intersted in buying these emails? Along the range of actors who would benefit from exposing these emails, why would the Russians come out on top? Perhaps the Republicans? China? Pretty much any of the many enemies the Clintons have amassed over the years? Hell, even Bernie Sanders, whose complaints about the DNC were validated by the email release. The suspects based on motive alone make up a very long list.
For some intelligent analysis suspicious that the DNC hack was a Russian intelligence job, try this.
For some more technical information on one of the alleged DNC infiltrators, here you go.
The disclosures of dirty tricks directed against Bernie Sanders contained in those emails are startling, and only add to the whirlpool of corruption and sleaze surrounding Hillary Clinton and the wheezing corpse of the democratic process.
There’s a lot to unpack here:
— The same people on the Clinton team who made enormous efforts to claim her private email server, which operated unencrypted over the Internet for three months including during trips to China and Russia and which contained Top Secret national security data, was not hacked by the Russians now are certain that the DNC server was hacked by the Russians.
— Many in Camp Clinton and the media labeled Bernie Sanders’ supporters are paranoid when they made claims during the primaries that the DNC was working against them. The hacked emails confirm the DNC was working against them, including suggestions that the DNC find ways to suggest Sanders was an atheist to discredit him in religious areas.
— Persons who claimed many in the media, including CNN, were biased in favor of the Clinton campaign during the primaries were dismissed. The hacked emails confirm the DNC was working closely with the media to seek negative coverage of Sanders and positive coverage of Clinton.
— Politico now admits it was a “mistake” sending the DNC an article draft in advance. The writer showed the draft to the DNC even before his own editors saw it.
— Facebook admits to blocking Wikileaks links to the DNC email hack from its newsfeeds (but blames spam filters.)
— The DNC appears to have expended significantly more efforts toward defeating Bernie Sanders than they did against any of the Republican candidates.
And some more:
— Instead of focusing on the contents of the hacked emails and the dirty tricks they exposed, many mainstream media outlets headlined instead the Clinton campaign talking points that the Russians hacked the emails and released them in an effort to derail her candidacy in favor of Donald Trump. Many of the same stories suggest Trump is some sort of pro-Putin stooge.
— On 60 Minutes, Clinton refused to say intervention by the DNC to favor one candidate was “improper.” Her non-answer was edited out of the interview broadcast.
— After DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced her resignation following this week’s Democratic convention, the Clinton campaign announced Wasserman Schultz would be hired by them as “honorary chair of Hillary’s campaign’s 50-state program to elect Democrats in every part of the country, and as a surrogate for her campaign nationally.”
— Debbie Wasserman Schultz will be replaced as DNC chair by (only now former) CNN commentator Donna Brazile. Brazile argued the pro-Clinton side of debates on CNN throughout the primary season.
— In the hacked emails, Brazile said “I will cuss out the Sanders camp!” over complaints by Sanders of inadequate representation by the DNC. In March while still employed by CNN, Brazile called Sanders’ decision to run as a Democract for the additional media exposure “extremely disgraceful.”
And very sadly:
— Bernie Sanders, his campaign sabotaged by the DNC with what were once “paranoid” accusations now proved, still endorses Hillary Clinton and will still speak at the Democratic National Convention.
It pains me to say as his once-supporter that the man has no courage. Even Ted Cruz stood up for himself in front of the Republicans in Cleveland. It is a sad day when we learn Ted Cruz has more balls than Bernie Sanders.
Those who are calling all this a coup of sorts, they’re wrong. It’s a surrender. But in the words of Hillary Clinton, what difference does it make?
As terrorism struck again in Nice and Germany and… Donald Trump outlined his policy against Islamic State: as president, he will seek a full declaration of war from Congress, the first such formal invocation since Pearl Harbor.
Trump was short on specifics but very clear he would take the strategies of the post-9/11 era into a presidency. Clinton, for her part, intends on “intensifying the current air campaign [and] stepping up support for local forces on the ground.” Their French counterpart, President Francois Hollande, declared “We will continue striking those who attack us on our own soil.”
The problem is that none of that will work. While perhaps necessary at times, military force is far from sufficient in defeating Islamic terrorism.
Post-Germany, Post-Nice, post-Brussels, post-Turkey, post-Paris… it is clear the last 15 years of the war on terror in general, and the last two against Islamic State in particular, have not worked. No society can defend itself fully when any truck can be turned into a weapon. No amount of curating social media will prevent disenfranchised people from becoming radicalized. Ramadi fell, Fallujah fell, Mosul will likely fall, and Nice still happened.
“The effect that’s going to happen now is like stepping on a ball of mercury,” stated one American intelligence analyst. “You step on a ball of mercury, all the pieces break up and spread around the world.”
A new way of thinking is needed.
The west must be willing to understand Islamic terror beyond scary search engine terms and decide if we wish to tackle the problem at its core, or simply choose to live with a new normal where incidents like Nice will just happen. Here is what might be considered. It will be hard, and will be unpopular.
— Admit the current strategy has not worked. Agree, in the U.S. and abroad, that something new is needed. Statements such as those from Trump and Clinton block anything beyond more of the same.
— Understand that the roots of Islamic terror rest in part in the Sunni-Shia divide, which the west helped fuel in arming jihadists in Afghanistan in the 1980s and whose fuse the west lit in 2003 when it invaded once-stable Iraq. A significant amount of terror takes place insider the Muslim world, and sectarianism is a steady fuel for recruitment.
At the same time, both sides of the divide recruit well off of horror stories of CIA torture, the continued existence of Guantanamo, the fits of Islamophobia played out in western refugee policy, French and American militarization of Islamic Africa, and a core belief that the actual goal of the western powers is not to “defeat Islamic State,” but to create a permanent state of war against Muslims while garrisoning the Middle East (it used to be more about taking Arab oil, but the point is the same.) More war, more troops, and more draconian security measures are just gas on those fires.
— Another driver of Islamic terror is the unhappiness of many Muslim youth with the autocratic, secular governments in most of their Arab nations. The west must pull back its support for such governments and lessen its fear of non-secular governments. What Washington sees, for example as expedient, realpolitik decisions to support the repressive Saudi government, Bahrain where the United States turns a blind eye to human rights in return for an important naval base, or allowing the Arab Spring to be crushed in Egypt as a military coup unseated the only democratically elected president in the nation’s history, have not worked well in even the medium term. Same for supporting the corrupt government in Baghdad.
The west must find rapprochement with Muslim leadership (Iran, with a robust participatory component inside a fundamentalist theocracy, is an interesting example.) Much of radical jihadism is less about destroying the west than it is about changing the Middle East; even 9/11, the worst of the terror attacks, had as its extended purpose pulling the United States into Afghanistan in hopes of triggering a broader Muslim uprising across the region.
— Immigration out of the Middle East is toothpaste out of the tube. It can’t be snaked back in by tough policies against refugees or stopping Muslims from entering the United States. Western nations must assimilate their Islamic immigrants.
Islamophobia, law enforcement discriminatory targeting of Muslims, hot-headed rhetoric and the rise of right wing governments pleasing citizens enamored anxious to trade their freedom for security, fuel the anger and sense of displacement of so-called lone wolves, and send them to the solutions offered by groups such as Islamic State. It is not about cleaning up Twitter. It is about chipping away at the mindset that makes those 140 character messages so attractive.
This is, in the end, a long war of ideas. Success must include difficult decisions to acknowledge the tides of history moving across the Middle East. Because you can’t stop the next truck. You do have a chance at making it so a man won’t choose to get behind the wheel.
Syria passed a grim milestone this week. The country now has more displaced people/refugees without homes than people still living in their homes.
The only significant response to this humanitarian crisis, a slow motion genocide, from the West has been more war, both from foreign aircraft and special forces directly, and via more support for the militias on the ground. The Syrian people are treated as simply part of the landscape being fought over. Destroying them seems as consequential as blowing up the buildings they used to live in.
That serves as background — literally — to the striking Pokemon Go images (above) created by Syrian artist Khaled Akil and others. They are trying to use the international frenzy over the game to keep attention on the plight of their people.
Here, they say, is what politicians’ claims to “destroy ISIS!” really mean.
The war in Syria, now in its sixth year with no end in sight, has killed more than 280,000 people. It is as if the only real question to be decided is if the West will run out of ammunition, or Syria out of people, first
Another artist, Syrian Saif Aldeen Tahhan, posted showing Pokemon Go players holding smartphones and seeking not Pokemons but medical care, school books, or undamaged homes. One image depicts a smartphone in front of a rubber dinghy of refugees at sea, with the user trying to capture a life ring.
“I am in Kafr Nabal in Idlib province, come and save me,” reads text underneath a Pikachu on a poster held by a young boy.
Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams issued a warning to an undisclosed number of masked protesters outside the Republican National Convention: “If you are a member of a group that causes you to have to hide your face, then you probably need a different cause.”
Police claim they have received at least a dozen calls related to concerns about the small groups of black-clad “anarchists” with masks.
So why is Chief Williams so concerned about the face masks? Too early for Halloween?
Nope, facial recognition.
Law enforcement aggressively employs facial recognition technology at events such as the Republican National Convention to identify “persons of interest” and to catalog new persons of interest. Masked faces don’t play as well with the technology (though newer tech can get around some limitations, and iris scan tech needs only to see your, well, eyes. More below.)
With facial recognition, a computer digitizes an image of someone’s face in a way that makes fooling the system difficult, stuff like measuring the distance between eyes, the angle of one’s nose, ear lobe shape and other tough to alter things.
Reports suggest in addition to public gatherings where people are enjoying their First Amendment rights to assemble and speak, airports scan passengers, hotels scan lobbies, stores scan aisles, casinos scan their gambling floors and many police street cameras are tied into the systems.
A publicly-known example occurred after the Boston Marathon bombing of April 2013. The subsequent Boston Calling music fest was subject to heavy use facial recognition surveillance, one guesses in case there were more Tsarnaev brothers out there. Law enforcement in the UK used facial recognition technology to scan the faces of thousands of attendees at the Download music festival without their knowledge.
And, oh, yeah, those iris scanners.
Iris scanners have quickly moved from the realm of science fiction into everyday public use by governments and private businesses.
Iris recognition is rarely impeded by contact lenses or eyeglasses, and can work with blind individuals as well. The scanners can catalog up to 50 people a minute without requiring the individuals to stop and stand in front of the scanners.
Information gathered from iris scanners or facial recognition in multiple locations can be sent to a central database that can be used to track an individual’s movement throughout the city, or to determine which individuals in the database associate together.
So hippie protesters, have a great time in Cleveland! Actually, the cops will know if you are having a good time, because they are watching.
With the Democratic and Republican conventions entering normal earth atmosphere, it’s time to get ready to rumble!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Both conventions promise excellent violence in the streets, especially in Cleveland, where a toxic slosh of Trump Brownshirts, anti-Trump protestors and the always blood-thirsty Cleveland PD will meet head-to-head-to-head in “free speech zones,” public parks and perhaps the streets themselves.
Now even the cops in Ferguson and Baltimore knew they couldn’t just outright fire live rounds (yet) into the crowds while the cameras were there, and maybe the Clevo cops know it too. So what’s a law enforcement officer interested in violently dispersing a crowd to do? Of course there are your standard tear gas rounds, night stick charges, and rubber bullets but that’s all so… 2015.
So why not use a real 21st century weapon, the LRAD. Watch for it in Cleveland, or at a protest near you.
Weapons of War
The LRAD was first deployed for use in Iraq, and quickly found its way onto Navy and commercial ships sailing amongst Somali pirates. The bad boy is a sound cannon.
The LRAD company prefers to label its product a tool to broadcast messages and pain-inducing “deterrent” tones over long distances. The device produces a sound that can be directed in a beam up to 30 degrees wide, and the military-grade LRAD 2000X can transmit at up to 162dB up to 5.5 miles away.
Fun fact: A jet engine at 100 feet is 140dB. Sound at 180db will cause tissue damage.
But of course the LRAD is non-lethal, so its maker says that anyone within a 100 meters of the device’s sound path will experience extreme pain. The version generally utilized by police departments (the LRAD 500X) is designed for short bursts of directed sound that cause severe headaches in anyone within a 300 meter range. Anyone within 15 meters of the device’s audio path can experience permanent hearing loss.
Permanent hearing loss begins at 130dB, and if the device is turned up to 140dB, anyone within its path would not only suffer hearing loss, they could potentially lose their balance and be unable to move out of the path of the audio.
First Amendment… Never Heard of It
So basically, put one of these on a truck and you can clear out a street pretty effectively. And the great thing about such a handy First Amendment-denying tool is that it is indiscriminate. It blasts the breath out of unruly hippies, legitimate journalists, peaceful protesters, happy tourists on the sidewalk, just everybody equally. Sorry about those who were exercising their Constitutional right to protest, because NOW HEAR THIS MOTHERF*CKERS!
The LRAD device has been used on several occasions against activists in the U.S. The first documented was in Pittsburgh during the G-20 summit in 2009. The Pittsburgh police used it again following the Super Bowl in 2011. The LRAD was used against Occupy protesters in Oakland and New York. New York brought their LRADs out again for the Black Lives Matter marches.
One Pittsburgh protester sued, saying the LRAD used against her made fluid leak out of her ear, and produced dizziness, nausea, and headaches. The city ultimately settled the suit for $72,000.
Make no mistake here: this is a weapon of war, developed for the battlefield, that is now being used on American streets against Americans.
BONUS: The LRAD Corporation announced earlier this month that the LRAD RXL model has been recognized as “Best Acoustic Hailing Service” by the Government Security News 2016 Airport, Seaport, Border Security Awards Program. The LRAD DS-60 was named as a finalist in the “Best Mass Notification System” category.
In another step towards the fascist state Donald Trump has warm dreams envisioning, FBI agents and Cleveland police officers “visited” the homes of local activists in an attempt to gather intelligence on possible planned demonstrations surrounding the Republican National Convention. Such actions step over the line of information gathering into the realm of seeking to chill free speech.
Activists said they viewed the visits as intimidating. A spokeswoman for the local branch of the FBI acknowledged only that “community outreach” took place as law enforcement officials try to ensure the GOP convention is a “safe and secure” event. During their visits, officials asked activists about past addresses, political and social affiliations, and plans for the RNC. The questions appear on their face of dubious constitutionality.
A spokesperson for the National Lawyer’s Guild, a group prepared to defend those arrested for exercising their First Amendment rights outside the convention, first reported the visits by teams of federal and local law enforcement officials.
Some of the activists are involved with groups planning RNC demonstrations, while some aren’t, the spokesperson said. She also said that some of the people who were visited were among the 71 people who were arrested in May 2015 in the aftermath of protests that broke out following the acquittal of Michael Brelo, a then-Cleveland police officer who had been charged with voluntary manslaughter in connection with the 2013 shooting deaths of two Cleveland motorists following a police chase.
The FBI and police made no attempts to hide what they were doing; in fact, quite the opposite.
For example, in a June 8 public hearing, Deputy Police Chief Ed Tomba told members of City Council’s public safety committee that Cleveland police have “a real, real good idea of who we think is coming here and what their objectives are. And if we can deter those objectives, that’s what we’re going to do.”
Cleveland purchased a $10 million “protest insurance” policy to protect against civil rights lawsuits resulting from the convention.
Once upon a time, all of America was a First Amendment Zone. That’s now as dead as Alexander Hamilton.
The city of Cleveland revealed part of its security plan for the
Nuremberg rally Republican National Convention. Securing the convention will require a heavily policed, fenced off 3.3 square-mile First Amendment Zone. A fun fact is that the First Amendment Zone is about the same size as Baghdad’s Green Zone.
(Pictured above is the free speech zone from the 2012 Democratic Convention)
The Zone concept in Cleveland is to ensure that the people’s rights to free speech are “preserved,” only someplace far enough away that no one can hear them, and surrounded by police so that the speech stays in line.
The ACLU of Ohio filed a lawsuit to change or block the Zone; the result was only a slight enlargement of the area allotted.
“What the city has done here is draw a gigantic blanket area that covers most of downtown Cleveland,” says Elizabeth Bonham, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio. “When the government takes the extreme step of limiting speech and assembly in any way, the burden is on them to justify that those restrictions are reasonable.”
Access into the Cleveland Zone will be controlled by law enforcement, who also will regulate protests and other activity (no details available on what that means; I guess people will need to experiment with what free speech will get them Tasered.) No tennis balls, baseballs, umbrellas with metal tips, ladders, sticks, poles, strollers, flashlights, balloons (?) or bike locks will be allowed. The Zone will be overseen by the Cleveland police, the FBI, FEMA, and the U.S. Secret Service.
Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson has said the Zone and other crowd control measures are “an attempt to balance between safety, security and constitutional rights of people and ensure we have a successful convention.”
Ah yes, the old standby of “balancing” security and inalienable rights. Gotta love that. Now let’s go bust some hippie heads!
BONUS: The use of First Amendment Zones is Constitutional under many circumstances. The Supreme Court, via Ward v. Rock Against Racism, developed a four-part analysis to evaluate the constitutionality of time, place and manner (TPM) restrictions. To pass muster under the First Amendment, TPM restrictions must be neutral with respect to content, narrowly drawn, serve a significant government interest, and leave open alternative channels of communication. The test case had to do with a concert that people nearby felt was too loud, and has been expanded to cover the use of First Amendment Zones.
A guy who wasn’t feeling the patriotism decided to burn an American flag and tell the world about it on Facebook — only to get arrested the next day after neighbors complained.
Bryton Mellott, 22-years-old, of Urbana, Illinois, was taken into custody after police received calls about his Facebook posts, which included a picture of him setting the Stars and Stripes on fire (above) and a message explaining that he was “not proud to be an American. In this moment, being proud of my country is to ignore the atrocities committed against people of color, people living in poverty, people who identify as women, and against my own queer community on a daily basis.”
Despite a very clear 1989 Supreme Court ruling (Texas v. Johnson) affirming that flag burning is a form of political speech fully protected by the First Amendment, cops charged Mellott under Illinois’ flag desecration statute, a law written years before the Supreme Court ruling and which is now unconstitutional.
Sergeant Andrew Charles of the Urbana Police Department said his town had never charged anyone under that law in 27 years, but that police proceeded with the arrest out of an attempt to “balance civil liberties with issues of safety.”
He never explained what safety was involved, how any safety issues might have been resolved by the arrest or why no one in Urbana has kept up with the Constitution, which is online.
The state’s attorney assigned to the case immediately decided not to proceed with a prosecution. No penalties for the cops, however!
A friend of the blog passes on these comments:
I have just been watching the “Breaking News” about the military coup in Turkey and have been appalled at the historical ignorance of what all of these talking heads, Wolf Blitzer, et al are telling the American people.
Not a single anchorperson has referred to the Turkish military’s traditional role as the protector of Kemal Ataturk’s original 1920’s military coup to make Turkey a modern sectarian state rather than an Islamist Ottoman oligarchy. This was just following Turkey’s defeat in WWI and the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, which was aligned with Germany during the war.
All of the anchors keep referring to the coup using the phrase “the coup is attempting to overthrow the democratically elected government of Erdogan.” Not a single one has appended that statement with the explanatory note that Erdogan, whose Party is the Islamist Party in Turkey, has used his term in office to slowly restrict free speech, crackdown on a free press, suppress opposition parties, and wage endless wars against the Kurds while tacitly supporting Jihadist groups in Syria who are aligned with ISIS. His aim was to become a permanent ruler in an Islamist state.
Another interesting sideline that our MSM carefully stays away from is analyzing the potential conflicts within the U.S. government which this coup presents.
On one hand there must exist very close ties between the U.S. military and Turkish military, since we jointly use Incirlik air base for operations. Then there is the State Department, who is probably having kiniptions over the deal that we signed with Erdogan for Turkey to hold hundreds of thousands of Iraqi-Syrian refugees from entering Europe.
There still is very testy question of how we can do any business with a coup government that has overthrown a NATO member government. Of course our morals on that are very loose since we helped the Egyptian military overthrow their government, but they didn’t belong to NATO.
My feeling is that this coup is long overdue and the outcome can be positive for returning Turkey to a more open society. Turkey, under Erdogan and his party, were aligned with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf regressive kingdoms so a sectarian Turkey may cut that tie. A little light in an otherwise dismal outlook.
If you were Vladimir Putin, or President Xi of China, what would you do if you had the entire archive of Hillary Clinton’s emails, classified and unclassified, “deleted” and not, in your hands? What value to you would that be in your next round of negotiations with the president of the United States?
Hillary Clinton traveled to 19 foreign locations during her first three months in office, inlcuding China, South Korea, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, and a meeting in Switzerland with her Russian counterpart. During that period of time her email system was unencrypted. She transmitted data over wireless networks in those countries, networks almost certainly already monitored 24/7 by intelligence and security officials. To say her email was not collected is to say the Russian, Chinese, Israeli and other intelligence services are complete amateurs.
They are not complete amateurs.
A System Wide Open to Monitoring
While FBI director James Comey said his investigators had no “direct evidence” that Hillary Clinton’s email account had been “successfully hacked,” both private experts and federal investigators, according to the New York Times, “immediately understood his meaning: It very likely had been breached, but the intruders were far too skilled to leave evidence of their work.”
Comey described a set of email practices that left Clinton’s systems wide open to monitoring. She had no full-time cyber security professional monitoring her system. She took her BlackBerry everywhere she went, “sending and receiving work-related emails in the territory of sophisticated adversaries.” Her use of “a personal email domain was both known by a large number of people and readily apparent… Hostile actors gained access to the private commercial email accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact.”
The FBI director was generous in his assessment. See, no hacking was really necessary.
But No Hacking was Really Needed
Online security company Venafi TrustNet has the world’s largest database of digital certificates and associated metadata, allowing it to go back in time and identify how digital certificates were used in the past, a kind of forensics capability for IT security. Here’s what they found on the clintonemail.com server, and it is not good.
Using non-intrusive Internet scanning tests routinely performed throughout by IT security teams (meaning foreign intelligence agencies have them too), Venafi learned the Clinton server was enabled for logging in via web browser, smartphone, Blackberry, and tablet. That automatically makes it vulnerable to interception, as the information Clinton was sending and receiving abroad was traveling via other nations’ web infrastructure and open-air cellular networks.
Clinton’s email log-in page was also on the web, meaning anyone who stumbled on it could try and log in, or employ the standard array of password hacking and brute force attacks against it, much like they did with your Gmail account that was hacked.
The Clinton email setup also was initially running a standalone Microsoft Windows Server, which is very vulnerable to attack, with at least 800 known trojans/spyware in existence that can steal keys and certificates. If the credentials on the server were compromised in those first three months, then the next years of encryption might have meant nothing.
How could someone have gained access to the credentials? Clinton’s most recent digital security certificate was issued by GoDaddy. Her domain’s landing page was at one time hosted by Confluence Networks, a web firm in the British Virgin Islands.
No Smoking Gun?
If anyone had picked up Clinton’s emails from the airwaves or in transit over the Internet (as we know, via Snowden, the NSA does), while they were encrypted, or had acquired the encrypted versions and used the resources of a state security apparatus to decrypt them, there would of course be no forensic evidence to find. Persons working at NSA-like levels actually breaking into systems expend significant energies hiding their intrusions, and such high level “hacks” have been known to stay hidden for years.
Sure, if the standard is a “smoking gun,” there is none. But such proof is rarely available in the world of global espionage, and decisions and conclusions are made accordingly on a daily basis.
Clinton’s email was extremely vulnerable, and her decision to run it off a private server put at significant risk the security of the United States. This is not a partisan attack or a conspiracy; it is technology.
Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey announced that his agency is recommending no charges against Hillary Clinton for her use of an unclassified personal email server while secretary of state. Comey offered that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring a case against Clinton.
The implications of these statements, and what happened before and after the announcement, represent what most likely represent the virtual end of the 2016 election cycle. Come November votes will be counted but the single, major, unresolved issue standing in the shadows behind Clinton is now resolved in her favor.
The director of the FBI labeled the leading contender for the presidency and her staff as “extremely careless” in their use of email, and this is generally seen as positive news by her supporters, the new standard now being not under indictment. Comey also stated that some 110 emails were classified ( at least 24 as Top Secret; one was found to be marked classified on Clinton’s server) when they were transmitted and received, an action that appears to be now inconsequential under national security laws. A New York Times tally found more than 2,000 classified emails.
There was no electronic connection between the Federal government’s classified systems and Clinton’s unclassified server. This indicates that on 110 separate occasions Clinton and/or one of her correspondents retyped information from a classified format. This means any classified markings (i.e., “Top Secret”) were removed in the process. “This classified information never should have been transmitted via an unclassified personal system,” Steve Linick, the State Department inspector general, said in a statement signed by him and I. Charles McCullough III, the inspector general for the intelligence community.
The Inspectors General for the Intelligence Community have stated that some of the classified documents were marked at the highest levels to protect sources and methods used to spy on North Korea via satellite. Emails contained the names of CIA officials. There is no evidence, nor did Comey suggest, that these actions were inadvertent, accidental, occasional, incidental, or other than intentional. It was Clinton’s decision to create the email system that allowed these events to take place. Clinton herself, given her decades of experience in government, clearly could recognize highly classified material, marked or unmarked. Standard Form 312, signed by Clinton and every other security clearance holder in the government, specifically notes that the laws apply to both marked and unmarked classified material. The legality of retroactive classification has been tested at the level of the Supreme Court.)
While Director Comey maintains there was no intent, or gross negligence, by Clinton to violate the law, it is difficult to reconcile those actions and that statement.
Hillary Clinton’s earliest statements, that no classified information traversed her server, later changed to “no marked” classified information (the statement itself irrelevant) did not appear to be addressed by the FBI in the context of perjury or obstruction. In addition, Josh Rogin of the Washington Post reports Clinton’s lawyers deleted all e-mails they did not produce to the State Department and then cleaned devices in such a way to preclude forensic recovery.
The standards applied in the Clinton case are at extreme variance from how classified information violations elsewhere in the government are applied. Space precludes listing examples in detail, but the cases of CIA officer John Kiriakou (served three years in Federal prison for exposing a single, unmarked unclassified business card with the name of a CIA employee) and TSA air marshall Robert Maclean (fired for exposing a text retroactively classified) stand out. Even David Petraeus, who transmitted classified information via his Gmail account to his mistress, received some minor legal punishment and was forced to resign.
There is simply no precedent to the Clinton decision. One wonders if the millions of U.S. government civil employees, military personnel, and contractors will be held to what appear to be lesser standards than previously held. That certainly wasn’t the case of Marine Major Jason Brezler, who shared classified information with colleagues in Afghanistan in to warn them about a Taliban conspirator, and was forced out of the service in response.
Director Comey spoke broadly. He did not, for example, directly address the 18 USC 1924, which states “Whoever… becomes possessed of documents or materials containing classified information of the United States, knowingly removes such documents or materials without authority and with the intent to retain such documents or materials at an unauthorized location shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.” This is the statute under which David Petraeus was prosecuted. It is difficult to reconcile the text of that law with the fact that classified documents resided on a server (for part of the time) at a private company, connected to the internet. A private SPAM filtering service apparently also had access to the classified emails.
An important issue not addressed by the FBI is the effect Clinton’s actions had on the Freedom of Information Act.
During her entire tenure as Secretary of State and for some time afterwards, State maintained it had no email records to produce in response to requests. Those statements — while technically true in that State did not control and could not search Clinton’s personal server — blocked journalists, activists, citizens, and for a time, Congress, from documents they were lawfully entitled to. The State Department says it will now require 75 years to release all of the documents currently under request.
The State Department’s own Inspector General found these actions to be in contravention of the Federal Records Act, and presents what might be seen as chilling preview of press relations and the public’s right to know for the next four years.
In addition, Clinton deleted about half of the emails from her personal server without oversight. It is unclear whether or not any of those would have been responsive to Freedom of Information Act requests, or contained additional classified information. The FBI did say emails it found in others’ Inboxes, ones not turned over by Clinton, the State Department, were work related. Clinton had previously claimed she turned over all work-related emails.
In the Clinton case, we are also left with unanswered questions about the timeline of events. Bill Clinton met with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on June 28, according to both, to make small talk about grandchildren. On July 1 Lynch announced she would accept Director Comey’s recommendation on the email case. On July 2 the FBI interviewed Clinton for several hours. On June 3, the New York times stated Clinton is considering keeping Lynch in her administration if she wins in November. On July 5 President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton flew together on Air Force One to their first scheduled campaign. Only hours later Comey made his announcement, meaning that whatever Clinton said on Sunday was evaluated and processed in less than two days following a year of active investigation. The appearance of impropriety alone remains damaging to the image of our nation.
Few believed, right or wrong, that Hillary Clinton would face criminal charges over her handling of classified material. Yet the many unanswered questions and issues not addressed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation remain. It seems unlikely that even if the majority of voters in November see the issue put to rest, that Republicans in Congress will feel the same come January.
She never, through the year and a half that the email saga played out, claimed she did not realize she was transmitting highly classified government secrets through her private email server. Until now.
A quick recap of Clinton’s explanations about all that classified material on her personal email server, because she has a couple of new ones now.
— For six some years she hid the fact that she used a personal email server at all;
— When first outed, she said unambiguously there was no classified at all;
— After the first reports that highly classified data was sent and received, she changed her line to “nothing marked classified.”
Now that the FBI has declined prosecution stating Clinton had no “intent” to send and receive all sorts of classified data, marked and unmarked, Hillary has adopted a brand new excuse: why, golly gosh, she just didn’t know it was classified! She is also throwing some of her staff under the bus for good measure.
On Friday, Clinton said she did not realize she was transmitting highly classified government secrets through her private email server while U.S. secretary of state.
Instead, Clinton shifted the blame onto her former colleagues at the State Department, saying in television interviews she followed their lead on whether or not information was classified. “They, I believe, did not believe they were sending any material that was classified, they were pursuing their responsibilities,” she said in an interview with MSNBC.
She did not address the findings by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that she herself sent information on topics classified at the highest levels of classification.
Her newest excuse is obviously tailored to match what the FBI said. It holds no water.
First of course is that with her decades of government experience, it is expected that Clinton would know highly classified data from unclassified. Some of the documents that passed through her server were at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level, and appear to have discussed information obtained via satellite spying on North Korea. Others discussed the names of CIA officials, including at least one who was undercover as a Defense Attache abroad. Some documents were clearly marked classified as Clinton saw them on her Blackberry.
You may not have had a clearance for decades like Hillary, but it seems even a lay person would know that is not run-of-the-mill stuff. At the very least, you might have asked someone to check into it. Clinton’s newest excuse, essentially an ignorance defense, seems a weak qualification for the presidency.
In addition, by statute, Clinton was the senior classification officer for the Department of State. Of course most of that job was delegated, but delegation does not remove responsibility. Indeed, as president she will delegate most of her work, and blaming problems on underlings is a clear sign of poor leader.
I know, I know, you’ll vote for her anyway.
This represents the first time in American history that a drone (wheels for now, maybe wings later) was used to kill an American citizen on American soil.
I get it, I get it.
The Dallas sniper had killed five cops. He was prepared to kill as many more as he could. He was in a standoff with police, and negotiations had broken down. The Supreme Court has made it clear that in cases such as this, the due process clause (i.e., a trial before execution in this instance) does not apply. If not for the robot bomb, the Dallas police would have eventually shot the sniper anyway. They were fully in their legal rights to kill him. None of those issues are in contention. I am not suggesting in any way the cops should have invited the sniper out for tea.
I am suggesting we stop and realize that in 2016 the police used a robot to send in an explosive to blow a person up. I am unaware that such a thing has happened in Russia, North Korea, China, Iran or other places where the rule of law is held by the few in power.
Weapons of War
The robot represents a significant escalation in the tools law enforcement use on the streets of America. Another weapon of war has come home from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. In the isolated case of the sniper, dead may be dead, whether by explosive or rifle shot. But in the precedent set on the streets of Dallas, a very important line has been crossed.
Here’s why this is very bad.
As in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is clear that an escalation in force by the police can only serve to inflame a situation, and trigger a subsequent escalation among those who will then seek to defend themselves against robots sent against them. In America’s wars, the pattern of you use a drone, I plant an IED is all to familiar. Will person being blown up by the cops likely soothe community tensions, or exacerbate them? Did the use of other military weaponry calm things in Ferguson, or encourage the anger there to metastasize into other locations?
More Force Sooner?
And will robots increase or decrease the likelihood cops will employ more force sooner in a situation?
“The further we remove the officer from the use of force and the consequences that come with it, the easier it becomes to use that tactic,” said Rick Nelson, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former counterterrorism official. “It’s what we have done with drones in warfare. Yet in war, your object is always to kill. Law enforcement has a different mission.”
Who is Responsible?
With a drone, it becomes easier to select the easier wrong of killing over the harder right of complex negotiations and methodical police work. Police officers sign up accepting in some ways a higher level of risk than soldiers, in that cops should be exercising a much more complex level of judgement in when and how to use force. Simply because they can use deadly force — or can get away with it — does not make it right. A robot removes risk, and dilutes personal responsibility.
For example, if an individual officer makes a decision to use his/her personal weapon, s/he takes on full responsibility for the outcome. In the case of a robot, the decision is the product of a long chain of command extending far from whomever has a finger on the switch. The same is true for America’s drone army abroad. The shooter and the decider are far removed from one another.
Who is responsible? What if we start to believe no one is?
Since the wave of Islamic State suicide bombings in May – killing 522 people inside Baghdad, and 148 people inside Syria – American officials have downplayed the suicide bombing strategy as defensive. Brett McGurk, the Special Presidential Envoy in the fight against Islamic State, said the group “returned to suicide bombing” as the area under its control shrinks. The American strategy of focusing primarily on the “big picture” recapture of territory seems to push the suicide bombings to the side. “It’s their last card,” stated a compliant Iraqi spokesperson in response to the attacks.
The reality is just the opposite. Just a day after the June 26 liberation of Fallujah, car bombs exploded in eastern and southern Baghdad. Two other suicide bombers were killed outside the city. An improvised explosive device exploded in southwest Baghdad a day earlier. And now the latest, with a death toll approaching 200.
Washington should know better than to underestimate the power of small weapons to shape large events. After Donald Rumsfeld labeled Iraqi insurgents as “dead enders” in 2003, they began taking a deadly toll of American forces via suicide bombs. It was the 2006 bombing of the Shi’ite al-Askari Golden Mosque in Samarra that kicked the Iraqi civil war into high gear. It was improvised explosive devices and car bombs that kept American forces on the defensive through 2011.
To believe suicide bombings represent a weakening of Islamic State is a near-total misunderstanding of the hybrid nature of the group; Islamic State melds elements of a conventional army and an insurgency. To “win,” one must defeat both versions.
ISIS differs from a traditional insurgency in that it seeks to hold territory. This separates it from al Qaeda, and most other radical groups, and falsely leads the United States to believe that retaking strategic cities like Fallujah from Islamic State is akin to “defeating” it, as if it is World War Two again and we are watching blue arrows move across the map toward Berlin. McGurk, following Fallujah, even held a press conference announcing Islamic State has now lost 47 percent of its territory. That may be true, but it also does not really matter.
Simultaneously with holding and losing territory, Islamic State uses terror and violence to achieve political ends.
Islamic State has no aircraft and no significant long-range weapons, making it a very weak conventional army when facing down the combined forces of the United States, Iran and Iraq in set piece battles. It can, however, use suicide bombs to strike into the very heart of Shi’ite Baghdad (and Syria, Jordan, Yemen, and Turkey – as Tuesday’s bombing reminds us), acting as a strong transnational insurgency.
Why does such strength matter in the face of ISIS’ large-scale losses such as Fallujah?
Violence in the heart of Iraqi Shi’ite neighborhoods empowers hardliners to seek revenge. Core Sunni support for Islamic State grows out of the need for protection from a Shi’ite dominated military, which seeks to marginalize if not destroy the Sunnis. Reports of Shi’ite atrocities leaking out of the ruins of Sunni Fallujah are thus significant. Fallujah was largely destroyed in order to “save” it, generating some 85,000 displaced persons, mirroring what happened in Ramadi. Those actions remind many Sunnis of why they supported Islamic State (and al Qaeda before them) in the first place.
Suicide strikes reduce the confidence of the people in their government’s ability to protect them; Prime Minister Abadi was ridiculed at the site of the most recent attack, and a member of his cabinet forced to resign. In Iraq, that sends Shi’ite militias into the streets, and raises questions about the value of civil institutions like the Iraqi National Police. Victories such as the retaking of Ramadi and Fallujah, and a promised assault on Mosul, mean little to people living at risk inside the nation’s capital.
American commanders have already had to talk the Iraqi government out of pulling troops from the field to defend Baghdad, even as roughly half of all Iraqi security forces are already deployed there. This almost guarantees more American soldiers will be needed to take up the slack.
Anything that pulls more American troops into Iraq fits well with the anti-American Islamic State narrative. Few Iraqis are left who imagine the United States can be an honest broker in their country. A State Department report found that one-third of all Iraqis believe the Americans are actually supporting Islamic State, while 40 percent are convinced that the United States is trying to destabilize Iraq for its own purposes.
The suicide bombings — in Iraq and elsewhere — are not desperate or defensive moves. They are not inconsequential. They are careful strategy, the well-thought out application of violence by Islamic State. The United States downplays them at great risk.